July, 1556. En route to France and escape from Queen Mary’s men, Jack Blackjack decides to spend the night at a Devon tavern, agrees to a game of dice – and ends up accused of murder. To make matters worse, the dead man turns out to have been the leader of the all-powerful miners who rule the surrounding moors – and they have no intention of waiting for the official court verdict to determine Jack’s guilt.
But who would frame Jack for murder . . . and why? Alone and friendless in a lawless land of cut-throats, outlaws and thieves, Jack realizes that the only way to clear his name – and save his skin – is to unmask the real killer. But knowing nothing of the local ways and customs, how is he to even begin? As Jack’s attempts to find answers stirs up a hornet’s nest of warring factions within the town, events soon start to spiral out of control . . .
What a thoroughly enjoyable adventure! Michael Jecks returns to his old literary haunts of Dartmoor – Lydford and Oakhampton – but without a Simon Puttock or Baldwin de Furnshill in sight. No, we are a few hundred years after the adventures of the bailiff and his friend, Baldwin, the former Knights’ Templar. The Moorland Murderers is set in the time of the Tudor queen, Mary I, shortly after the Wyatt Rebellion. Closely associated with the queen’s sister, Elizabeth, the book’s hero – if you can call him that – Jack Blackjack, has left London for his own safety. Heading for the Continent via Plymouth, he finds himself caught up in a little bother in Oakhampton and stands accused of murder.
Jack Blackjack is not your typical hero. He can’t stand the sight of blood, tends to get bashed on the head – A LOT – and has a rather high opinion of himself. As The Moorland Murderers is told in the first person, the reader gets a healthy – or unhealthy – dose of Jack Blackjack’s opinions about himself and others. Which make for a highly amusing, light-hearted approach to the serious business of murder.
There are few men who can be as uncooperative and suspicious as those who own taverns. I suppose they are used to seeing men trying to drink their houses dry before ‘remembering’ that they had left all their money at home. This fellow,, Mal, was no exception, and as I made my slow and painful way to his bar, I was concerned to see that he had picked up a stout cudgel and was allowing it to slap unpleasantly into his other hand while he gazed at me in a thoughtful manner. It was not an encouraging look. As to my gambling companion, there was no sign.
‘See? My purse has been cut from me!’ I declareed, holding up my laces. ‘The man who gambled with me, he must have chosen to get his money back! He set upon me and robbed me!’
There was some murmuring at that. The large man at the farther end of the room unhitched himself from his post at the wall and began to walk towards me. I did not like the look on his face. The man at the bar, I saw, was no longer there. He too had left. I moved around so that the wench who had wriggled so enticingly on my lap was between us. His expression was not reassuring to this traveller. It was the sort of look a cat might wear while stalking a rat.
The host was not taking my word. ‘Shew ‘un th’ ‘aid.’
I stared at him. His brows darkened. He had looked rather like an ape beforehand, but now he was an angry ape with the suspicion that the figure before him had stolen his favourite fruits. His stick rose menacingly.
‘He said to show him your head,’ the maid translated with a sigh. She rolled her eyes as though thinking me the purest form of fool she had encountered. It made me scowl – but briefly. The movement pulled the skin over the lump on my scalp, and that hurt.
I submitted myself to her inspection. She came forward and glanced at my head. She pulled a face when she parted my hair, making me wince and flinch in pain, and her hands came away with my gore on them. The sight of blood can make me feel queasy at the best of times, but the sight of my own has always had a marked effect. I could feel the colour drain from my face, and the world began to whirl about me once more.
‘Get him a stool!’ the wench burst out, and since her mouth was close to my ear, I started like a child caught stealing a biscuit, and fainted away.
Michael Jecks has long been one of my favourite authors – ever since I read his first book, The Last Templar, a murder mystery series set in the time of Edward II, many years ago. The Bloody Mary Mysteries are set later, in the Tudor era, but are just as engrossing. Jack Blackjack is not your typical hero. He is a paid assassin who cannot stand the sight of blood and has to outsource his work. He thinks very highly of himself – probably too highly – and has a knack for getting into trouble.
Jack Blackjack is a very likeable chap who is trying to negotiate the way through trying times in the reign of Mary I, when political plotting was at a dangerous high and the counter-Reformation was in full swing in England. In The Moorland Murderers, Jack is trying to get away from the intrigues of London – and becoming implicated in the latest rebellion. He finds himself on the edge of Dartmoor, where regional politics were just as dangerous as in London itself!
With the The Moorland Murderers, Michael Jecks is back in his old haunts. He knows the history and landscape of Dartmoor like the back of his hand. And it shows. Historical authenticity, of life on the Moors, of the clashes between the tin miners and those from the towns and of the suspicion of strangers is evident on every page. The story is fast paced and completely absorbing to read. It is such fun! I smiled and giggled through every page!
I haven’t enjoyed a book so much in ages!
I cannot recommend it highly enough.
About the author:
Michael Jecks is the author of more than thirty novels in the Knights Templar medieval mystery series, and four previous Bloody Mary Tudor mysteries. A former Chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association, he lives with his wife, children and dogs in northern Dartmoor.
Michael is a regular speaker about the Knights Templar, the end of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, about writing and publishing, and about finding work. He is also keen to help those who are now going through the latest recession. He endured enough hardship, and lost all his savings, during the last recession, and understands what it means to risk losing everything.
An enthusiastic photographer and watercolourist, Michael can often be seen walking across Dartmoor where he lives, gaining inspiration into the lives of our ancestors for his stories. When relaxing he can usually be found clad in white in a pub near you before dancing mad stick Morris.
Of course, if you want to contact him or link on social media, you can find him at writerlywitterings.com, he’s on YouTube as writerlywitterer, on LinkedIn, he is at Facebook.com/Michael.Jecks.author, at Flickr.com/photos/Michael_Jecks, on Instagram, Pinterest and everywhere else too! He appreciates hearing from readers, so do please contact him.
Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.
Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword Books, Amazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.
1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!
Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:
Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword, Amazon, Bookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.
Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.
Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Available now from Amazon, Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.
©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly